Alcoa’s European Works Council: “There is a good economic reason against the temporary shutdown of the San Cibrao vats.”

He has doubts about the company’s projects: “Is it still interested in Europe as a base for production or only as a market to sell imported products?”

The president of the European Works Council (EWC), Stian Nordal Jensen, sent a communiqué to the local works councils and trade unions representing Alcoa employees in which he analyses with concern the impact and repercussions of the Redundancy Proceedings (Expediente de Regulación de Empleo, ERE) at the San Cibrao factory. “On 28 May, Alcoa management informed the European Works Council (EWC) and the local works council of San Ciprián about the proposal to cease production of anodes, liquid metal and supporting services and cut production at the San Ciprián Smelter. The reorganisation of production could result in the termination of up to 534 employment contracts. Also, another 400 jobs in subcontracting companies would be at stake. Since then, we have had many meetings internally and with the management. The EWC has been very involved in this issue, first of all, because we support our Spanish colleagues to keep the jobs in their region, but also because we are very concerned about Alcoa’s industrial strategy in Europe,” he explains.

The EWC has doubts about Alcoa’s projects in Europe: “Is the company still interested in Europe as a production base or only as a market to sell imported products? We asked Syndex to make a counter-expertise and study the possibilities of keeping the plant open. In the meantime, Alcoa had started local negotiations on the redundancies, which would have a legal deadline of 3 weeks. The EWC argued that local negotiations could not be finalised before the local unions have had a chance to study the Syndex report, and the EWC itself has given its opinion,” the EWC president wrote in the statement.

Syndex report

“The local negotiations have finally been extended until 4 August, so that the EWC opinion and the Syndex report can continue to play a role in the local negotiations. In these two months, we had serious disputes with management that could have been avoided if management had involved employees earlier in the process and paid more attention to this decision’s impact on the ‘people and the community’. Our main conclusion is that the costs of temporarily closing the vats could be higher than keeping them in operation. A fair estimate would indicate that if a buyer could be found who would continue the vats in operation within 30-40 weeks, this would be cheaper than temporarily closing the vats. Therefore, even without considering the external effects in the region (adjustments in electricity supply, unemployment of subcontractors, etc.), there is a strong economic case against the temporary closure of the vats”.

The EWC believes that “the combination of a primary aluminium plant and a refinery is a strength, but the proposal puts the long-term future of the smelter at risk”. They also believe that there is “a great need for an active industrial policy at national and European level to defend our jobs. However, Alcoa’s strategy excludes a serious effort to fight to maintain a broad industrial (foundry) base in Europe”. The EWC is not convinced that management guarantees that Hungary, the Netherlands and Madrid will not be affected: “Colleagues from these countries have expressed their concerns to the EWC about the possible consequences in their countries. In our view, either the substantial loss of production and employment in Europe that the proposal would cause will reduce activities in positions of responsibility, especially in the shared services centre in Hungary. Or, the overheads of the other plants will have to increase. In any case, it affects the other European countries”.

“Alcoa wants to focus on aluminium oxide, which provides more profit. But even for the refinery, the proposed reduction threatens its long-term viability.”

The EESC believes that the decision to cease primary aluminium production at San Ciprian is first and foremost a strategic decision at the corporate level, which does not take sufficient account of the San Ciprian site’s potential and the serious social and economic consequences for an entire region. Moreover, it is a further step in the weakening of Europe’s industrial base, succumbing to the power play of other global players such as China. Alcoa wants to focus on the more profitable aluminium oxide. But even for the refinery, the proposed reduction poses a threat to its long-term viability. “Alcoa’s decision, statement and behaviour towards the EWC and the employees of San Ciprian did not show much sympathy to people who have always been very loyal to the company. The main issue shortly will remain: Is Alcoa willing to cooperate in searching for a buyer or investor? And secondly, can an agreement be reached to keep the vats open without stopping them even temporarily? The European committee assures that they are waiting for the reaction of the management of the multinational after expressing their opinion on 30 July, “a reaction that we should receive within a week”.